Saturday, May 31, 2014

June Writing Events Roundup

Upcoming Wyoming writing events and opportunities in June:
  • June 6-8: Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in Sheridan. There's still time to sign up online by PayPal or at the door. 
  • June 21, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.: Writers of the Canyon Seminar and Workshop at Circle J Ranch Camp, 3338 Highway 16, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Guest speaker is Eugene Gagliano. Cost is $40.00: register by calling 307-431-4735.
  • June 26-28: Jackson Hole Writers Conference in Jackson, Wyoming.
  • June 28, 7 p.m.: David Sedaris book signing at Barnes & Noble in Cheyenne.
  • June 29, 3- p.m.: "Heroes, Villains, and Plots," workshop with W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Thermopolis Days Inn conference room. $75.00 fee, but several scholarships are available to cover cost. Contact Thermpopolis Chamber of Commerce at 307-864-3192 or
Find more writing events on the calendar, including national and regional conferences, contest and publication deadlines, and dates and times for local writing groups. Have a local writing group or event you want to add? Contact Susan Vittitow Mark.

Our calendar comes to us courtesy of WyoPoets.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

MOOCs for word lovers

by Susan

First, let's get one thing out of the way: what on earth is a MOOC?

It stands for Massive Open Online Course. These are free online classes taught by top universities (Harvard, even!). You don't get attention from the instructor, as you would in an on-campus course, but you get all the content, video lectures and the opportunity to interact with your classmates online. The courses use automated and peer to peer grading, depending on the subject. (There's a video here if you want to learn more.)

Some MOOCs have drawn more than 100,000 students! In a MOOC, you can watch Harvard lectures from your armchair. And all for free.

The two biggest MOOC providers are Coursera and EdX. While I haven't found any creative writing courses in their offerings, check out these courses on poetry and literature.

Upcoming courses

Archived courses
EdX often archives its courses, meaning you can still access all the lectures and course materials, even though you can't fully participate and interact. These two poetry courses are in the archives:

Although Coursera doesn't archive its materials, you can sign up for an account and add courses to your watchlist so that you will be notified if they're offered again. This would be a good one to keep an eye out for:

In a MOOC, you can go at your own pace and do only as much of the class as you want to  -- you might just watch the lectures or you might try to complete every assignment. Strictly up to you. Try a MOOC on for size and let us know what you think of it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


guest post by Tina Welling

There’s an old spiritual saying, “First things first.” For me, at times, that has meant writing. In the beginning, this didn’t go over so well with people who were used to me putting them first - say, my husband and two sons. It didn’t even go over so well with me, since I didn’t feel justified taking time and energy away from my other involvements when I hadn’t published a single thing.

I think this is a place that trips up a lot of us who long to write. While learning our craft, we don’t feel that we are good enough to demand the time and space to work at it. Many of us carry full time jobs, we may have partners and children, a house to tend, and we struggle with how to fit it all in.
To then add a big piece like writing seems to incur defeat before even starting. But I’m a big believer in following your longing. When we long to do a thing and we turn our back to it, we have chosen to numb out to life in a big way. It’s imperative to live fully by doing what we love.

At first, I kept my writing a secret. I told nobody. My kids thought I was writing a lot of letters. It was a hard time. I felt like an impostor at work, grocery shopping, anywhere I wasn’t writing, because suddenly it was all I wanted to do and all I thought about and yet nobody knew it. Still all along I was learning; I was writing my training novel. And during that time I carried a fear that I would be hit by a truck and die before I could get good at the craft and then people would read my mounds of manuscripts and pity me, because I was such a bad writer. The idea nearly paralyzed me, but I pushed on.

However, I was tested along the way. I received a lot of “change back” messages from my family, which I tell about in my newly released book, WRITING WILD, Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature. I also received many, many rejections from agents, editors, magazine publishers and I lost every competition I entered. Recently my friend and novelist Tim Sandlin, director of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, said, “But you just kept going.” And he’s right. I kept going - past the point of sane behavior it seemed at times.

I had to ask myself along the way just why I was writing and it turned out that it didn’t have as much to do with being published as I had thought. But it did have to do with the exchange between myself and others of thought and beautiful language. These two issues were what I loved about reading and what drew me to want to be a writer. So it became my job to find ways to enjoy an exchange with other readers and writers.

I found four other women who also wanted to write and learn to write well, so we met together every other week at a coffee shop and critiqued each other’s work. Eventually, I found open mic opportunities, and discovered that some non-profits held events that offered a chance for public readings, and I found a couple regional print avenues. I participated in whatever came my way.

Now numerous magazine articles, four anthologies, and three novels later I’m celebrating the publication of my first non-fiction book that tells what I’ve learned all these years. WRITING WILD – if it’s anything - is a testament to perseverance. So, Writers, keep going. Write and write. You are following your longing. You are making your life worth living. Do you realize how many people in the world envy us just because we have a passion in life, something we love to do? And this something wakes us up to a livelier experience than most people enjoy. We are engaged in creative energy and it is the substance, ethereal as it is, that makes the world go around.

Lynn chimes in...

Turns out Tina and I share a love of Vedauwoo.
This magical place in southeastern Wyoming played a role
 in Tina's awakening to wild writing and living

I gave myself the assignment to read Tina Welling's, WRITING WILD so I could say a few words about it in conjunction with Tina's blog post. Good call, Lynn. I finished the book yesterday, and let’s just say that I'm going to turn right around and re-read it. It’s that impactful. I don't want to miss a thing.

Tina took me on a wake-walk (her term) through the three-part process that makes up the core of this book. She introduced the process lightly at first—just a few twigs—then extended a wise hand to lead me further into this dense forest of a concept. On a serendipitous trip to Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Colorado, I practiced some of Tina’s techniques. I am still reverberating with all that I sensed, discovered and absorbed.

Using stories from her own life, quotes/ideas from other creative folks (William Stafford, anyone?), and distilled wisdom from nature, Tina gives us plenty to work with to find a connection with the natural world—or enhance the one we have—to the benefit of our lives and writing.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Art Elser's chapbook a 2014 Colorado Authors' League winner

Art Elser
by Susan

WyoPoets treasurer Art Elser's chapbook, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, was recently named a 2014 Colorado Authors' League Writing Award winner.

The chapbook compiles poems about his combat experiences in Vietnam; selections were chosen from 20 years of writing. He described putting his war experiences on paper as a healing experience in the article on the WyoPoets site.

Art actually lives in Colorado, but we get to claim him here in Wyoming thanks to his longtime membership in and service to WyoPoets.

His book may be ordered from Finishing Line Press.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What's in a name? (And how do you come up with one?)

"What'd you call me?"
by Susan
On I-75 in Cincinnati, Ohio, there's an exit for "Ezzard Charles Drive." My siblings and I always wondered how you could look at a beautiful newborn baby and name it "Ezzard." It sounds like "lizard."

Naming a fictional character may not be as momentous a decision as bestowing (or inflicting) a name on a small human, but it does take some thought. How do you find a name that fits the character, their story and world they live in?

A good character name might:
  • Evoke a time: Names fall in and out of fashion over time. You're more likely to find "Kayla" on her cell phone than on a prairie homestead. 
  • Reinforce the setting: Names are one of the details that make a setting more real, more believable.
  • Shape a character: A unique name might be a source of embarrassment or pride throughout the character's life.
  • Have meaning: In addition to being a Biblical name, "Noah," means "rest, comfort." My own (Susan) means "lily," which does not describe me one whit, one bit. Even if the reader doesn't know the name origin and meaning, you will.
  • Sound good: Say the name a few times. Does it roll off the tongue? A friend of my sister's was going to name her baby "Jack Hess" until she started saying it to herself. 
Where to generate a few name ideas? Here are a few sources:
  • Social Security Administration Baby Names: Good source for historical fiction to set your story in a specific year. This site has the 1,000 most popular baby names by year back to 1880. 
  • Behind the Name: Fantastic source. Many tools on this site, including the ability to generate names appropriate for specific nationalities and lists of most popular names from other countries. Need a name with a "canine" feel? Try their themes page.
  • Random Name Generator: English names only, but you can bulk-generate them up to 100 at a time. 
Looking around, I spotted more good advice on character names on NaNoWriMo, The Write Practice, wikiHow and Baby Names. How about you? Do you have any good links or advice to share?

As for Ezzard Mack Charles, he turned out to be a professional boxer and World Heavyweight Champion. I have no idea if his given name had anything to do with his chosen profession. I'll let you write that story.

Photo attribution: By Czesław Słania (English Wikipedia: [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Ezzard Charles, in a private engraving by stamp engraver Czesław Słania. It is #16 in his series of world champion boxers engraved in stamp format. The stamp has only been produced privately and the text USA, is there to show Ezzard Charles' nationality.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


by Lynn

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. 
- Jack Keruoac, On the Road

Photo by Mike Carlson

If there’s one thing you and I most likely have in common, it’s that we spend a lot of time on the road. Long drives are a fact of life in Wyoming. So I’m of the opinion that it's essential to make good use of windshield time.

Here are some ways I use drive time to hopefully become a better writer, mile by mile:

For some reason, I get lots of creative “stuff” when I’m driving. Dialogue, essay angles, setting nuance (what color is that stretch of grass, really?), and plot tangles. I know I should get a tape recorder, but I’m pretty adept at scratching a few key words on a notepad that sits on the passenger seat, while I look straight ahead. You scoff— but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For this kind of drive time, I keep the radio off and my ear tuned to anything the muse has to say.

Sometimes I crank the tunes and let the music take me where it will. Lyrics enter my brain better in the car than anywhere else. Sometimes poems come out of this listening, but most of all I get character insights. I was listening to Tim Grimm’s song “Holding Up the World” one day and it occurred to me that it “belonged” to Keenan, one of my fictional characters. It sent me off on a whole new tone with him, followed by corresponding plot elements.

I have gotten some high-caliber education during long drives by downloading podcasts to my little iPod and playing them in the car. High tech? Not really. If I can do it (with a little help from my husband when I have questions) I bet you can too.

Just a few of my favorite writing-related podcasts are:

Writers On Writing: a weekly radio program on the art and business of writing, where an impressive cast of writers, poets and literary are interviewed.

Authors On Tour: Live! I don’t know about you, but I’d attend all of the writer events held at Denver’s Tattered Cover Bookstore if I could. With this podcast, I can be there for a lot of them.

KQED FM – The Writer’s Block: A weekly reading series featuring stories, essays and poetry by writers from all genres–includes accomplished beginners and established authors.

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: When my attention span is short or I’m just running a few errands, I use the time to brush up on little details--the kind that editors will nail you on. This podcast is billed as a “friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language” and it delivers.

New Yorker: Fiction: It’s hard for me to find time to read short stories. The cool thing with this podcast is that well-known authors read works of fiction by their favorite authors, and talk about the story. Examples: Rick Bass reads Thomas McGuane’s “All the Land to Hold Us”; Margaret Atwood reads Mavis Gallant’s “Voices Lost in Snow” -- They've got a poetry podcast too!

And you? How do you make those miles count? Share if you’re so inclined. I’ve got a long drive to Sheridan coming up in June…